Books

X Saves the World by Jeff Gordinier

Kieran Curran

Chock-a-block with references to key Generation X formational moments, Gordinier attempts to define what it means to belong to that group, and where the boundary blurs with Generation Y.


X Saves the World

Publisher: Penguin
Subtitle: How Generation X Got the Shaft but Can Still Keep Everything from Sucking
Author: Jeff Gordinier
Length: 224
Formats: Paperback
ISBN: 9780143115151
US publication date: 2009-01
Amazon

As flannel shirts come back into fashion and jaded pessimists turn into local micro-activists (hello blogosphere!), a book on Generation X is oddly timely. X Saves The World, an extended book version of two magazine articles by the author, traces the beginning of X in the late '80s, its morphing into the Y generation, and its lingering effects in the land of now (including Barack Obama). The book is written in a free-wheeling, pop-py style, similar to Chris Turner's tome Planet Simpson, a treatise on the brilliance of Springfield (the fictional one) and its favourite family.

Like that particular book, Jeff Gordinier's radiates relentless enthusiasm for referencing literary sources, personal anecdotes, TV, pop and alternative lyrics and philosophy, whilst maintaining a breezy, readable pace. For example, T.S. Eliot's “The Love Song Of Alfred J. Prufrock” is mentioned, the author's experience of the baby boomer nostalgia-fest of Woodstock 1994 is recounted, Stephen Colbert's “roasting” of George W. Bush is lionised and a lyric of alt-country pioneers Uncle Tupelo is used in a section intro (any inclusion of Jay Farrar's lyrics is fine by me, incidentally).

Out of this referential melting pot, the book transmits a relentless enthusiasm for Generation X itself, and its cynical, jaded attitude which emphasises the importance of the role of the slacker. Far from being a term of derision, Gordinier quotes film-maker Richard Linklater's positive definition of the term: a slacker is someone "responsible to themselves." From a multitude of popular and somewhat unpopular jump-off points, Gordinier waxes enthusiastically on the multi-faceted nature of Generation X, and his positivity for its cultural output (before capitalist forces and their associated homogenisation got in the way) is certainly infectious.

The tangential nature of Gordinier's approach makes his work an enjoyable, easy read, but also somewhat frustrating. The multitude of bite-sized references are tasty, but not all that nourishing. Also, the oppositional "X = good, Y = bad" dichotomy is a tad over the top. An example: the retreat from fame undertaken by Eddie Vedder after the massive mainstream popularity of Pearl Jam is praised, but the bombastic elements of their early music, and the over-earnest portentousness of much of their latter output is ignored. For a columnist and cultural critic, there seems to be a distinct lack of critique in dealing with some of X's more questionable aspects.

Gordinier is fond of quoting Douglas Coupland also, yet when referencing his earlier novel "Generation X" he chooses to omit any of the negative characteristics of its characters, such as their self absorption and pretentiousness. Yet when referencing "Shampoo Planet," he chooses to call to attention to the vacuity of its protaganist's apparent Y generation induced materialistic attitude. Again, "X = good, Y = bad." On another Coupland inspired tip, Gordinier creates the term "cooler king moments" so as to describe moments in popular culture that grasp the zeitgeist, yet are uncharacteristic of other hollow aspects of the dominant mainstream. Again, his enthusiasm is admirable, but the term itself is clunky, and appears to be a vain attempt to coin a phrase á la Mister Coupland, who gave the world succinct terms to describe the social and cultural practices of X-ers (the abandonment of a linear career progression in favour of a succession of casual “McJobs,” for instance).

Additionally, in opting for no set definition of what Generation X is apart from "people born between 1960 and 1974" and a flimsy questionnaire, it renders the sensibility even more vague, and by selectively quoting the output of those in popular culture who fit into the X mould, he ignores the more populist and enthusiastically capitalist aspects of that same generation. And not to sound too jaded, but recounting the story yet again of Nirvana's apparent triumph against “corporate rock” is in itself an overdone cliché. Oh, those halcyon days!

On a more casual level, the work succeeds, and it is readable for aforementioned reasons. There will be books written on this generation in a more systematic way (and no doubt there already have been), but the more scattershot (in terms of delivery) message of the importance of X's scepticism and cynicism has some resonance. Indeed, the final chapter of the book which looks at Barack Obama's subtle but valuable cynical realism and the rise of anti-Establishment pedagogues like Fritz Haeg (a cynical idealist) is the most fascinating, as it is not as cluttered with references or enthusiastic nostalgia as earlier sections. Overall it is a book to pick and choose tidbits out of, and at 189 pages, not all that comprehensive.

5

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.

Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Music

Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.

Music

IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.

Music

Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.

Film

NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.

Music

The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.

Books

David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.